Latent variables in psychology and the social sciences

Annu Rev Psychol. 2002:53:605-34. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135239.


The paper discusses the use of latent variables in psychology and social science research. Local independence, expected value true scores, and nondeterministic functions of observed variables are three types of definitions for latent variables. These definitions are reviewed and an alternative "sample realizations" definition is presented. Another section briefly describes identification, latent variable indeterminancy, and other properties common to models with latent variables. The paper then reviews the role of latent variables in multiple regression, probit and logistic regression, factor analysis, latent curve models, item response theory, latent class analysis, and structural equation models. Though these application areas are diverse, the paper highlights the similarities as well as the differences in the manner in which the latent variables are defined and used. It concludes with an evaluation of the different definitions of latent variables and their properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Psychology* / methods
  • Social Sciences / methods*